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Frances Kroll Ring dies at 99; F. Scott Fitzgerald's final secretary

Frances Kroll Ring, one of the last living links to novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, died Thursday, her family said. She was 99 and died at home in Benedict Canyon after a short illness.

Ring began working as Fitzgerald's secretary and typist in 1939, when he was sending out short stories, working occasionally for Hollywood studios and writing the manuscript "The Love of the Last Tycoon."

These were Fitzgerald's last days, when he was considered washed up as a writer, dating gossip columnist Sheilah Graham (wife Zelda was in a mental institution on the East Coast), drinking too much, health failing. Before "The Love of the Last Tycoon" was finished, Fitzgerald died on Dec. 20, 1940.

"Nobody really addresses the way it was at the end," Ring told the Los Angeles Times in 1996. "All the books focus on the drinking and all that, and that was not the total man."

Ring was 22 at their first meeting, sent over by an employment agency. "He was lying in bed," she recalled to Times book critic David L. Ulin in 2009, "and he asked me all kinds of questions. Then he gave me some money and asked me to wire it to his daughter -- and to call him when I was done. That was his way of testing my honesty. He was only in his 40s, but he was fragile. The kind you wanted to help. He was very pale and had very blue eyes, and he was a charmer."

She must have impressed the writer. Fitzgerald asked her to open a dresser drawer -- instead of clothes, it was full of empty gin bottles. She was unfazed, and he offered her $35 a week. He wrote a fictionalized version of her in his Pat Hobby stories; she wrote about her experiences in the 1985 memoir, "Against the Current: As I Remember F. Scott Fitzgerald."

Ring was born May 17, 1916, in the Bronx, New York, the daughter of a furrier. Her family moved to Los Angeles with an eye toward serving Hollywood's glamorous clientele. But it was her outsider status, according to legend, that appealed to Fitzgerald when he hired her. He didn't want news of his Hollywood novel getting back to Hollywood.

"We talked a lot about books and movies and the state of the world, which was in chaos," Ring told the Times in 1993. "He never treated me as someone who was working for him. He treated me as an equal."

After working for Fitzgerald, Ring became a reader in the story department at Paramount. She married a Cadillac salesman and raised two children. She wrote freelance book reviews for the L.A. Times, reviewing works by Langston Hughes and Albert Schweitzer. After she was widowed in 1965, she went back to work full time.

In 1972, she became editor of Westways, the magazine of the Automobile Club of Southern California, where she regularly published literary luminaries Anaïs Nin, M.F.K. Fisher, Carey McWilliams, Richard Lillard, Norman Corwin and Lawrence Clark Powell. She also gave novice writers a start, including Steve Erickson.

Ring broke her hip in a fall and was recuperating in the hospital, her daughter Jennifer told the Times. "What am I supposed to do, just lie here? It’s impossible, I can't just lie here," Ring said, and soon enough she returned home.

Ring is survived by her daughter, Jennifer Ring, of Berkeley; son, Guy Ring, of Oak View, and two granddaughters.

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